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CSUF Emeritus Professor of Secondary Education Dies at 82
James W. Cusick, One of University’s Early Faculty Members

August 28, 2007 :: No. 24

Throughout his 45 years in education, James W. Cusick’s students always came first, recalled his children and colleagues. Cusick, emeritus professor of secondary education at Cal State Fullerton, died Aug. 23.

Cusick, who began teaching at CSUF in 1961, was 82.

Family members said Cusick and his wife, Ruth, of 55 years, were on a road trip to his native Montana to visit family members when he died in his sleep at a hotel in Utah. Cusick and his wife were planning to move back to Montana after living in Fullerton for 46 years.

A vigil will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Placentia’s St. Joseph Catholic Church, where Cusick was an active member. A Mass is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Thursday at the church, 717 N. Bradford Ave.

Colleagues and family members fondly remember Cusick as a well-respected scholar who loved people — and a captive audience. He also had a sense of humor and, most of all, respected his students and was dedicated to education.

“Jim Cusick approached education from a long-respected philosophy that every child should have the opportunity for a meaningful and useful education, designed to enable him or her to become a reasoned and productive citizen,” said Joan Monteverde, education credential specialist for CSUF’s Credential Preparation Center.

His daughter Cassie Cusick, professor of neuroscience at Tulane University in New Orleans, also noted how her father instilled in her, as well as others, that “it’s important for teachers to value every one of their students.” Her two sisters also followed in their father’s footsteps and became educators.

Helen Taylor, professor and coordinator of secondary education — a post Cusick formerly held — described her former colleague as “a marvelous man” who students adored: “He set the tone for secondary education that exists today.

Victoria Costa, chair and professor of secondary education, called Cusick a great mentor. When she arrived at CSUF in fall 1993, Cusick took the time to set up a visit with administrators and teachers at Anaheim Union High School District so that she could learn more about the collaboration between the university and district. “He was well-thought-of in the district and paved the way for a great relationship that I have enjoyed all these years,” she said.

Cusick was born Nov. 18, 1924 and grew up in Laurel, Mont., near Billings. He and his family moved to Fullerton in 1961 after he accepted a teaching position at Cal State Fullerton, then named Orange County State College. Cusick and his wife made their home near the Fullerton campus, then surrounded by orange groves. He lived so close that he walked to work, remembered son Mike Cusick of Bozeman, Mont.

 “There were only a few portable classrooms when my dad started working at Cal State Fullerton,” said Cusick, an attorney. “He always had an optimistic view about being part of the institution; he focused on all of the possibilities.”

James Cusick earned a bachelor of science degree from Montana State College (now Montana State University), where he majored in chemistry. He earned a master’s degree in education from Washington State University and doctorate from the University of Minnesota. He was a high school math and science teacher and later taught at Montana State College before joining Cal State Fullerton.

At CSUF, Cusick served as chair of the Division of Teacher Education from 1964-69 and 1980-86, and as director/coordinator of secondary education for 20 years. He was awarded emeritus status in 1987, but continued teaching until 1994.

For many years, Cusick also was involved with the California Council on Teacher Education (formerly the California Council on the Education of Teachers), a nonprofit organization devoted to improving the education of teachers and administrators. He served as executive secretary from 1969-80, president from 1982-84 and past president from 1984-86.

Son Mike Cusick recalled his father’s modest beginnings as the son of a railroad switchman and mother who ran a boarding house to help make ends meet. Cusick’s first job was working in the roundhouse for the Northern Pacific Railroad.   

“My dad’s teaching philosophy came from his very humble beginnings; he was a self-educated person who saw the value of every individual. He loved life and he loved people,” he said.

While he moved away from his hometown, Cusick was a lifelong enthusiast for the state of Montana, where he visited every summer and loved to fish, Mike Cusick said.

“He was going home,” he said. “He was so excited.”

Cusick is also survived by son James Cusick Jr., who is autistic and lives at Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa; daughters Connie Cusick of West Yellowstone, Mont., a high school science teacher, and Mary Castaneda of Quail Valley, who teaches kindergarten in Lake Elsinore; and seven grandchildren.

Donations in his memory may be sent to: St. Vincent de Paul Society, in care of St. Joseph Catholic Church, 717 N. Bradford Ave., Placentia, CA 92870; or Fairview Developmental Center, 2501 Harbor Blvd., Costa Mesa, CA 92626.

Photos: Available online at

Media Contacts: Debra Cano Ramos, Public Affairs, 657-278-4027 or

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James W. Cusick
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